The importance of SU listening to its constituents

As we expressed in a recent editorial, we have been concerned that, in placing too much weight on internal procedures, Student Union seems to lose sight of how best to achieve its fundamental purpose—representing Washington University undergraduates.

Our last editorial on the subject was broad and did not provide specific examples. This week, however, SU Senate has acted in ways that highlight its room for growth.

On Nov. 2, Green Action organized a flash mob protest to address attendees of the University’s “America’s Energy Future” conference about its lack of dialogue on renewable energy sources and the University’s use of the marketing term “clean coal.” On Nov. 5, the Senate deliberated a resolution supporting Green Action’s protest. Instead of passing a substantive resolution supporting the goals of Green Action, SU Senate decided to delay debate on such action for another week and instead passed a hollow statement of support for student activism.

The statement of support includes such generic statements as “the Student Union lauds the passion and engagement of these students who have come together and spoken on behalf of the student body” and “the Student Union is excited by the aforementioned student activism and engagement and would hold such action as a good example of what it means to be a responsible member of both our University and international communities.”

We appreciate student activism too, but we expect Student Union to do more than merely applaud other students for their effort. Solely passing a resolution in support of activism is hardly action at all and is a source of frustration among the student body. Furthermore, while SU Senate intends to consider a more substantive resolution next week, we are disappointed that many senators did not fully research the issue before coming to the Senate meeting, despite having already seen the proposed resolution.

Resolutions, while perhaps a useful starting point, are among the most unremarkable of the actions SU has available for employment. Student Union, with a reach by definition far greater than that of Green Action, could use its binding power to actively support and even initiate active efforts to unite the student body for issues that they agree are important. For example, SU can facilitate communication between related student activist groups. It can also use its influence and public relations capabilities to encourage attendance at activist events and to make relevant information about the topic readily available to the entire student body by way of e-mails, flyering campaigns, online videos and the SU blog.

We believe that the members of Student Union have made an admirable start—their Web site features pictures of the flash mob protest on its home page, and executives have expressed their enthusiasm for taking a more activist stance on issues that matter to students.

But the passion demonstrated by the student body on this issue calls for more action, and we are particularly troubled by two strains of argument put forth during SU Senate’s discussion of the issue. First, we noted a reluctance among senators to directly confront the University administration. While we understand that can be an intimidating task and certainly one that should be approached respectfully, we expect SU to fulfill its role as an advocate for student concerns by challenging University decisions when necessary.

Second, there was some poorly articulated discussion about senators’ responsibility to their office versus their responsibility to their constituents. While we appreciate the importance of taking their roles seriously and acting in accordance with their own informed consciences, we caution senators against citing the formal description of their office as reason for not fully supporting a large, student-based movement.

Ultimately, the student body will judge SU by its results and not by the content of its resolutions. Senate will vote tonight on another resolution, and we urge SU to remember that its formal procedures and internal concerns should not stand in the way of its support for broad-based student activism. Moreover, we encourage students to come to the Senate meeting at 9 p.m. Wednesday in Simon 113 and ensure that the senators hear their passion.

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